Killing Me Softly Review

Best known for his grand Chinese historical epics The Emperor And The Assassin, Farewell My Concubine and Temptress Moon, Chen Kaige, having never made an English language film before, was an unlikely choice as director for Killing Me Softly. It is hard to see anything in Nicci French’s fairly ludicrous mystery thriller of sexual obsession and murder that could have attracted the Chinese director, whose themes and interests have up to now always been clearly defined and masterfully realised.

Alice Loudon (Heather Graham) has a successful career, a comfortable relationship with dull but down-to-earth Jake. One day she meets a stranger on the street, Adam (Joseph Feinnes), and embarks on a reckless and passionate affair far away from the safe comforts of her previous life. Adam Tallis is a renowned mountaineer, a hero and a risk taker who lives life on the edge and Alice is completely swept away into a whirlwind marriage. But then mysterious and threatening messages start appearing, leading Alice to wonder what she really knows about Adam’s past. She starts to investigate and the more she discovers the more she begins to suspect that her life might be in danger.

Hitchcock directed the wife-suspects-husband scenario much more skilfully in Suspicion, where Cary Grant’s character played against type – the real terror and suspense generated from the premise that a seemingly kind and caring man could possibly be trying to kill his wife. Adam Tallis’ vague cipher of a character is not so subtly defined, but Joseph Fiennes does at least manage to make his character chillingly dangerous, despite the failings of the plot and screenplay to convince us that he might be a killer. We never really feel at any stage that Adam poses any real physical threat to Alice – he’s a little over-obsessive and inclined towards kinky sex, but that’s as far as his character goes.

If the film fails on suspense and danger (which you would think would be pretty essential for a successful thriller), at least it attempts to convey the obsessive attraction that draws Alice to Adam, with the inclusion of a number of mild sex scenes. However, while the film does depict their sexual relationship a little more graphically than the book (which is surprisingly coy in its descriptions) it shys away from depicting any unpleasantness or physical abuse of Alice - something which is essential to lend credibility to her fear that he is capable of physically harming her. If it has achieved nothing else, the inclusion of these sex scenes have at least gained the film a certain, if undeserved, notoriety.

While there doesn’t appear to be anything much wrong with the image on the DVD, it doesn’t appear terribly striking either. The picture is presented anamorphically at 1.85:1 on a single-layer disc and it’s pretty workman like - rather dull and poorly lit with a faint suggestion of grain. The same can be said for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, which operates effectively without drawing your attention to any effects. The only extras on the DVD are a Making of Featurette and a Theatrical trailer. The Making of is a basic 5 minute electronic press kit style featurette with clips from the film and a few soundbites behind-the-scenes from the director and cast. The DVD is released at a budget price, so what you have on offer here is pretty good value. The film failed to get a theatrical release in the United States, and is released in Region 1 with Rated and Unrated editions. The Pathé UK Region 2 release of the film, as far as I am aware, is the uncut version.

Killing Me Softly is a perfunctory, barely competent thriller that is unfortunately bereft of anything resembling style, substance, credibility or originality, drawing heavily on Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct for shock value. Having said that, if you don’t think too hard and don’t want to be stretched with any character or plot complexities, it moves along pretty swiftly. If you want to watch a good thriller though, there are much better films than this.

A comprehensive look at Chen Kaige's work on DVD can be read here.

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